For the past year, it felt like every week brought more news in the fight over California's parent trigger law. It was supposed to be a way to put school control firmly into the hands of the parents and usher in a more streamlined and responsive education system, but so far the law has been utilized sparsely.
However, if the new campaign by the Los Angeles Unified School District is successful, the parent trigger might finally fulfill its promise. Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Board of Education agreed to hold informational meetings in order to aid parent campaigns to invoke the law which will include data such as five year history of student test scores as well as a summary of all the steps schools have taken in the past few years in order to improve academic outcomes.
The new district rules allow school staff to correct any misinformation circulated during petition campaigns and bar the use of campus facilities or resources to impede signature-gathering efforts. Parents who are organizing will be asked to provide evidence that they held public meetings to discuss their proposed campus changes and their process to gather petition signatures.
To minimize the possibility of parent trigger campaigns altogether, the district will begin offering new training for school staff to build more trust and collaboration among parents, teachers and administrators. Such a partnership recently occurred at Lennox Middle School, where parents decided against a petition campaign and instead worked with teachers and administrators to obtain more electives and other desired changes.
Steve Zimmer, a board member who pushed for the changes, did so because he believed that there was too much misinformation and political propaganda surrounding the petition process, with the truth getting lost along the way. Zimmer added that schools that have been targets of petition campaigns in the past have been extremely unresponsive when it comes to allowing parents a closer look at the performance of both the staff and the students.
Former state Sen. Gloria Romero, who wrote the law, said she has been troubled by the confusion sown in some parent trigger campaigns and would support some changes. She said she would back rules similar to those that govern ballot initiatives, such as public notification of petition campaigns and disclosures of financial contributors.
She also said she would support public meetings to give parents objective information about their schools — but that they should be held for all low-performing campuses, not just those targeted in parent trigger campaigns. To hold meetings only where campaigns have been launched seems "an effort to suppress and make it more difficult for parents to organize," Romero said.
Tamar Galatzan, who voted against the new requirements, said that far from easing confusion, allowing districts to handle the law differently would make things even less clear.